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Thriving in the Era of COVID-19

Beverage brands are scrambling to figure out how to keep their businesses moving forward in a time of shuttered restaurants and bars, shelter-in-place orders, and the economic uncertainties that are changing consumer buying patterns. We share our tips for adapting to this disruption while continuing to provide real value to trade and consumers.

How do you adapt to the disruption?

Refocus your on-premise approach
Marketing to the on-premise accounts has always been about providing value and filling the needs of bartenders, sommeliers and restaurateurs. This time of social distancing is no different, but you’ll need to adapt to the changing environment. Restaurants are closed and bartenders are out of work. How will you maintain those relationships? How can your brand fill the interim needs of these figures that are essential to our industry? Is there any room to reallocate some marketing funds in order to help the bar and restaurant employees that you depend on? Beverage directors are itching to get back to work. We’ve even heard word that some are putting together spring menus in this time off. This is the perfect time to connect one-on-one with a phone call or social media message to your on-premise customers and ask how you can help them in this time of need.

Offer an easy path to purchase
The market need for alcohol has certainly not changed, though the methods to obtain it certainly have. Now is the time to ramp up your direct-to-consumer channels. If you are a spirits brand, can you or your accounts sign on with channels like Drizly, Mercari, or Spirit Hub? If you’re a wine brand, how can you strengthen your mail-order option for consumers? More importantly, how will you communicate with your customers that these options are available? Your BTI review comes with a customizable “Buy-it-Now” button that links your product’s review page to your ecommerce solution. Make it effortless for Tastings.com viewers to click to buy when they land on your review page.

Keep your customers engaged
Now is the time to engage longtime and new customers through new and existing channels. BTI can help you connect with our 100,000 monthly visitors on Tastings.com and through our trade network of 18,000 active drinks industry members. A BTI review is the ultimate tool for marketing on a budget. Engage consumers, get free promotional tools for point-of-sale and digital marketing, keep your brand top-of-mind in beverage directors that can’t wait to get back to work.

Re-concept your advertising strategy
On-premise sales have come to a halt, so how can you use that down time? Jordan Friedman of Bond Moroch, a brand marketing, PR and digital agency suggests creative ways of reaching your customers. Since people are mostly confined to their homes, smart brands are thinking about ways to get into people’s homes. Since most people who are watching TV are either watching the news, or are binge-watching Netflix and Hulu, traditional television advertising won’t be as effective as it once was.  And advertising on news sites and social media platforms can only go so far, since some may have restrictions when it comes to alcohol marketing. The good news is, there are ways to meaningfully engage with customers in the digital realm by curating unique and branded experiences. We have an upcoming webinar on specific techniques and tactics that can be utilized. Follow us on social media @beveragetestinginstitute for webinar times.

Get your brand in front of buyers and influencers, despite event cancellations
Every major trade show and tasting event has been cancelled, but Beverage Testing Institute’s year-round professional review service is still accepting entries and publishing results. By participating in our published reviews, you are getting access to a proven brand-amplification platform designed to communicate the quality, style and story of your brand to our 100,000 monthly Tastings.com visitors.

Beverages-Reviewed-by-BTI

Beverage Testing Institute, Clout And Bond Moroch Announce Alliance To Help Beverage Companies Drive Winning Brands

 

PRESS RELEASE 

For Immediate Release
March 17, 2020

BEVERAGE TESTING INSTITUTE, CLOUT AND BOND MOROCH ANNOUNCE ALLIANCE TO HELP BEVERAGE COMPANIES DRIVE WINNING BRANDS

Beverage Development Marketing Alliance (BDMA) Aims to Help Beverage Brands Pivot During This Significant Market Disruption.

Chicago, IL & New Orleans, LA – Beverage Testing Institute, the nation’s leading independent beverage rating and review company, Bond Moroch, an award-winning integrated marketing firm, and CLOUT, one of the nation’s premier public relations and corporate communications agencies, today announced they have cemented a working partnership. Through this partnership, formally known as the Beverage Development Marketing Alliance (BDMA), players in the highly-competitive wine, beer and spirits arenas gain a new mechanism for simultaneously creating both winning products and brands.

BDMA has nearly 50 years of collective experience in developing and refining liquids, brand strategies and campaigns for some of the world’s best beverage companies including Coca-Cola, Bacardi USA and Beam Suntory.

While our nation is facing an unprecedented disruption, consumers and brands are continuing to push forward, buy products and make products.  Many brands which had earmarked funds for event sponsorships in their marketing budgets now have that capital available for advertising, PR and digital.   The BDMA can help brands quickly pivot and engage with the consumers they planned to capture through sponsorships and event marketing.

Chicago-based Beverage Testing Institute is a multi-faceted organization that provides ratings, beverage buying guides, and education for consumers and the trade through its publication Tastings.com.  A certified member of the American Society of Testing and Materials, Beverage Testing Institute’s consulting division helps beverage industry competitors develop, refine and optimize their products and is considered to be the industry leader in liquid and brand analysis and development.

Headquartered in New Orleans, the undisputed alcoholic beverage capital of the planet, Bond Moroch works with alcoholic beverage brands to develop and market winning brands.  From start-ups and regional players, to household-name brands, Bond Moroch has helped beverage competitors create powerful brands that stand out in crowded marketplaces and capture the preference of discerning customers.

Based in Chicago, CLOUT helps leading as well as challenger beverage and spirits brands influence the markets they serve and protect their corporate reputations. In addition to garnering positive media coverage and brand publicity for their clients, the PR firm also specializes in developing beverage and spirits brand personas and product narratives that will resonate with target audiences. CLOUT also leads corporate communications strategies for brands that addresses investor and employee communications as well as establishes crisis prevention and management protocols.

CLOUT CEO Michon Ellis states, “Beverage players need to place as much of an emphasis on understanding their consumers and how best to communicate with them – now more than ever.  What to say, and more importantly how to say it, is imperative when developing an effective public relations or corporate communications strategy for any wine, beer or spirit brand. Their target audiences value exclusivity and are adventurous as well as curious.  Communicating in a way that inspires them to take action can be complex. The BDMA helps to remove that complexity by ensuring seamless communications excellence from concept, to launch, to in-market maintenance.”

According to Jerald O’Kennard, director of Beverage Testing Institute, “The BDMA is the go-to solution to provide marketing services, industry connections, and brand amplification now that all of Spring’s trade events have cancelled.  Our original vision with the BDMA partnership was to help our wine, beer and spirits clients dramatically accelerate their go-to-market process by linking the brand and product development processes, and make them simultaneous.  Our aim is to go all the way upstream conceptually with our clients, and ensure that their products and brands are forged in the same furnace.”

Bond Moroch partner Skipper Bond continues, “Much in the same way that people ask what comes first, the chicken or the egg, many wonder what comes first, the product or the brand.  Our partnership with Beverage Testing Institute and CLOUT is born from our vision to go in a completely different direction.  We believe the product and brand development processes need to be interwoven at the very outset, at the concept stage. In uncertain times, brands need to robustly engage with their consumers, because when times get better, those bonds are remembered.  We don’t simply market brands.  We help to create brand loyalty.

About Beverage Testing Institute
BTI is the research, advisory and engagement company that helps alcohol brands be better. Their value to the trade is built on their unique position as an advocate for the alcohol beverage industry, an independent publication, and a decades-long, consumer-trusted brand. On this foundation, they develop, refine, recognize, and launch the world’s best beverages. For 39 years, their clients and partners have accelerated their development processes, improved the quality of their products, and amplified their brands reputation and worth through quality-centric messages and marketing strategies that they have developed with them. Visit bevtest.com for case studies and solutions.

About Bond Moroch
Based in New Orleans, Bond Moroch works with household-name brands to achieve success in competitive, complex marketplaces.  Using a mixture of art (creativity, imagination) and science (research, robust data mining and customer discovery), they help their clients create and optimize brands that touch and enrich the lives of their customers every day.  www.bondmoroch.com

About CLOUT
Founded in 2019, CLOUT is a public relations and corporate communications agency providing strategic communications counsel and turn-key public relations tools as well as tactics that empower companies and brands to grow their bottom line, influence the markets they serve and protect their corporate reputations. www.showclout.com

 

Media Contacts:

Jerald O’ Kennard
Beverage Testing Institute
P: (773) 930.4080
E: Jerald@bevtest.com

Jordan Friedman
Bond Moroch
P: (504) 323-8130
E: jfriedman@bondmoroch.com

Michon Ellis
CLOUT
P: (312) 883-5381
E: michon@showclout.com

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The Winners of BTI’s Annual Packaging Competition

While Beverage Testing Institute’s beverage evaluations occur year-round, our highly anticipated packaging competition is held only once annually. 

To determine the year’s best packaging submissions, we assemble a diverse group of experts: distributors, buyers, beverage directors, and designers with keen eyes for contemporary form and key insight on what draws consumer attention. Each panelist conducts a solo evaluation, taking time to consider each product individually and independently of any others within a given submission category. 

The following design categories are evaluated for each product:

Creativity Fresh and original concepts and execution

Graphic Design Images, text, and arrangement thereof

Form Shape, texture, and mass

Style Relationship of the package elements to the character of the product and its projected image

Functional Innovation Technological, pragmatic, and design breakthroughs

The panelists enter detailed observations and rank entries along a scale for each of these design categories. Once the evaluations have been completed, BTI’s proprietary analysis methodology software aggregates the data and determines the winners of that year’s packaging championships. 

And so, without further ado, here are the winners of Beverage Testing Institute’s 2020 Packaging Championships, accompanied by a little in-depth information on why our experts agreed that these products achieved their design goals. 

Beer

 

With “rich concept, illustration, color, print quality, and brand cohesion,” Indeed Brewing’s submissions earned multiple medals for their cans and case, with panelists taking a special liking to their consistent presentation of ingredients and tasting notes.

 

 

Lift Bridge Brewing’s case submission had a winning color scheme and made good use of custom illustration. 

 

 

 

“Great artwork” and a “unique approach to design and visuals” showed that Common Cider Company’s can composition was as thought-provoking as it was medal-winning. 

 

Spirits

The “classy appearance” of this glass didn’t disappoint. Panelists found it “lovely to pour into, sniff from, and sip from,” and hopefully the folks at Stölzle are celebrating by swirling a dram in this winner. 

 

 

These labels were “absolutely exquisite, beautiful, captivating, and rich with story” and our panelists send “high praise for the design team, illustrators, and printer.” Both Barnacles and Espanita would be proud additions to any bar, home or professional. 

 

 

 

Newer to the market, Belfour’s covetable decanter-style bottles and attention-grabbing catchphrase, “The Spirit of Champions,” resulted in classy packaging highlighting a brand that “you certainly can’t just walk past on the store shelf.” 

 

 

Already one of BTI’s high-scoring spirits, Uncle Nearest Tennessee Whiskey has quality packaging to match. “It strikes all the right notes to keep it competitive within its class” and the “small touches” show that “this is a more premium product.” 

 

 

 

“Baseball fans rejoice: there’s a whiskey gift for you.” Cooperstown Distillery’s “incredible” bottle and “clever” details came together nicely in this winner. 

 

 

 

“Classy, well-crafted, incredible label work” created intricate continuity in Koval’s bottle series, leading panelists to infer that “what’s inside will also be thoughtfully crafted.” 

 

Wine

 

Jam Jar’s “lovely little 4-pack” had great pattern integration and fun design. 

 

 

 

A range of thoughtful methods resulted in these wine label winners. VARA’s “gorgeous presentation” invited panelists to take a “deeper, longer look at this package’s lovely understated crisp presentation” and Bella Luna’s rich embossing established an “elegant and classic” brand identity. Creating personal connections in their designs, Greetings from the Willamette Valley’s art direction did a good job of “evoking memories while encouraging the consumer to make some new ones” and St. Hilaire Cellars’ use of hyper-localized labels was a “powerful tool” invoking a “sense of belonging.” 

New Baijiu Flavor Wheel

The Debut of a Baijiu Flavor Wheel

Chinese baijiu is one of the oldest distillates in the world, and has been defined into 12 plus categories or “styles/substyles” based on aroma/flavor characteristics.

Several hundred chemical compounds have been defined as contributing to the composition and flavor profiles of the different styles or type of this Chinese Liquor. These include flavorful esters (often fruity in nature), fatty acids (often rancid, cheesy, goaty and dairy-like notes) and sulfur compounds – among a plethora of other flavorful molecules. These notes also include earthy/muddy and farmyard characteristics and savory, complex sweet notes, and roasted, nutty flavors. Baijiu is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Some estimates cite an annual production of 13 million kL in 2017 (1 kiloLiter = 1000L or 264.2 US gallons) or approximately 3,434 million gallons. 9.43L annually per Chinese citizen!

Two works discussing Baijiu in some detail are those of Sandhaus (see references). Sandhaus notes that around 10000 distilleries of varying sizes and capacities exist in mainland China today after peaking at between 18-36000 by the early 1990’s. Between them it is also estimated that there are tens of thousands of baijiu products available. Generally categorized as light-aroma type, strong-aroma-type, soy sauce-aroma type, sweet- and honey-aroma type and miscellaneous-aroma-type liquors. A more expanded nomenclature appears for the different styles or types as shown in Figure 1.

12 Baijiu Flavor and Aroma Styles

Figure 1. The first known flavor wheel covering the general flavor impressions or expectations from the 12 main types or styles of Baijiu.

This flavor wheel, presented here for the first time – being a work in progress – covers the general classifications – based on flavor profiles (aroma and taste = flavor) for a dozen generally recognized styles or types of the Chinese liquor known as Baijiu. English and Chinese names for each class are presented along with general impressions and a little more flavor detail. It should hopefully be a useful tool for sensory panels and in spirits judging competitions.

Unlike most alcoholic beverages known in the Western World, the raw materials, and manufacturing processes, including fermentation, distillation and aging, plus the flavor characteristics of baijiu and other Chinese liquors are all quite different from our general understanding of wine, whiskey and brandy production. This is mainly because baijiu is a product of solid-state fermentation and distillation. In a nutshell, grains and a complex starter culture of microorganisms (see Figure 2 – Baijiu Production) are mixed together and simultaneous saccharification and fermentation in a solid (rather than submerged) state takes place. The mixed-culture of organisms (yeasts, bacteria and molds) – embedded in a fermentation starter known as Daqu or Qu are actively involved and solid-state steam distillation processes are employed – sometimes with the implementation of multiple reiterations of fermentation and distillation. Aging of base liquor is then allowed to occur in sealed jars, followed by blending and bottling. Figure 2 shows the general outline of baijiu production.

Baijiu Production

Figure 2 – Baijiu Production

As noted from above in Figure 2, a very complex and time-consuming process is involved in the production of the various styles of baijiu. With all the raw materials used, the special microbiological and enzymatic properties of the varied types of Qu or daqu, the spontaneous inoculation of additional yeasts, bacteria and molds from mud pits and the surroundings where baijiu is produced, and the reactions occurring during the fermentations, distillations and aging it can be seen how the complex flavor profiles associated with baijiu are developed.

Baijiu is thus clearly differentiated from other liquors based on its distinctive flavor, taste, and production process. Each style has been the subject of extensive research and the focus of dozens of papers. While detail could not be provided here, one key fruity flavor of note in baijiu is the compound ethyl hexanoate. This ester exhibits a fruity, floral and sweet aroma and has apple-aniseed-like qualities. Its flavor/aroma potency comes through well in Chinese liquors, especially in strong-aroma type baijiu. Other esters convey tropical and other fruit notes. A potent odorant in Chinese sesame-flavor baijiu is known as furfurylthiol (a sulfur compound). This compound along with other related aromatic thiols contribute roasted sesame, grapefruit, passion fruit and boxwood characters with thresholds for detection in the parts per trillion range. Soy sauce-aroma type baijiu is also associated with some components conveying a key retronasal burnt flavor. While much more could be said about the multiple flavor components, this short review covers only an outline with the general flavor impressions or expectations from the 12 main types or styles of Baijiu being presented in Figure 1. A paper by the present author and Jamie Baxter is currently in press with much more coverage of Baijiu.

References:

Sandhaus, D. BAIJIU: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits. Penguin Books. (2014).

Sandhaus, D. Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World’s Oldest Drinking Culture. Potomac Books. (2019)

Jin. G., Zhu, Y. and Xu, Y. Mystery behind Chinese liquor fermentation. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 63; 18-28. (2017).

Liu, H. and Sun, B. Effect of Fermentation Processing on the Flavor of Baijiu. J. Agric. Food Chem. 66; 5425-5432. (2018).

Spedding, G. and Baxter, J. Baijiu – An Acquired Taste? Chinese Liquor with a Range of Wild Flavor Characteristics. Artisan Spirit. (2020). In press.

5 Beer Characteristics Beverage Directors Are Looking for in 2020

With a diverse and ever-growing swath of drinkers holding their empty glasses aloft, beer professionals are under pressure to cater to individuals’ perfect pours. These drinkers’ demands are broad, but some in-depth insights are setting the foundation for producers to create brews that hospitality professionals want to sell.

Touting first-rate outlets around the globe, the Kimpton family of hotels and restaurants has bars that need to cater to all kinds of guests. One of their bar managers, Melissa Carroll, has paid close attention and has identified a major, rapidly accelerating trend: low ABV and low calorie demand is “absolutely” here to stay. “Session-able beers with full-bodied taste, without the guilt, AND you can drink a few of them without going overboard? Yes please.” Guests want to enjoy themselves when they’re out, but not at the full-calorie, total-inebriation level. This goes for industry professionals as well. With the rise of awareness of mental and physical health of the hospitality workforce, there is a growing need for ways to participate in the fun and excitement of the industry without losing sight of self-care. Low ABV and/or low calorie beer options keep the trade sharp, and consumers in admiration of the industry will want to mirror that trend as well.

Local appeal is very real. Working in Chicago, “most of our guests want to try something from the Midwest,” and Melissa opines that “this is the same of each region of the United States.” Quite right, according to Laura Newman, champion of Diageo’s World Class 2018 and owner of Queen’s Park in Birmingham, Alabama where “hyper local” brews hold the spotlight. If smaller producers are vocal about where they are and what they’re making, natives and visitors alike will want to partake in their offerings, either fortifying hometown pride or getting a total taste immersion as a tourist.

While always ready to try something new, beer drinkers still want the ability to session with their favorites. Melissa explains that many of her Kimpton guests request IPAs and Lagers, and this desire for the classics is also echoed in Asheville, North Carolina, “the Napa of beer,” where bar owner Donnie Pratt says that guests guzzle “whatever IPA or Pilsner is on draft.” In order to choose which brand, classic or not, packaging design has a big impact. Canada’s Vancouver Island Brewing, for example, mixes well-known styles into their offerings, but makes them pop with brightly-colored, contemporarily-designed labels. Melissa’s beer packaging vision is that “fun plays on pop culture are going to drive the aesthetic market in the future.”

Moving forwards in 2020, beer drinkers want to choose from a range of options, with conscious consumption, local flare, and delicious classics with ultramodern design at the top of the list; extra credit to whoever brews Melissa a “Tajin, lime, and watermelon salted Lager.” Any takers?

2020 State of Vodka with Hyatt’s National Director of Bars

As Americans dive deeper into the wave of craft cocktails, they are often at the whim of tidal trends. A new product will hit the shelves and, subsequently, local cocktail menus and bar guests clamour to taste it. But as those fads fade, there are lulls in which an imbiber will undoubtedly return to their standbys and vodka, in particular, has resurfaced as the steadfast choice for the drinkers of the world.

For a long time, vodka held a poor reputation for those looking to consume elevated beverages. Its rise in popularity occurred in the 1950s, a time when America’s culinary scene was as dismal as it has ever been and unfortunately vodka carried the infamy of this era with it. This decade’s top dishes included things like meatloaf, frozen dinners, deviled eggs, and tuna casserole and many of these meals were washed down with a crisp, “breathless” vodka concoction. Just as culinary culture at the time was removed from highlighting its individual components, so too was vodka enveloped in a blanket of blandness. Due to this lamentable history, vodka has long borne the reputation of poor quality and character. Yes, vodka has always “paid the bills,” but not often with pride.

Luckily, as distillation, mixology, distribution, and customer education have advanced, so has the quality and variety of vodkas on the market, and people around the world are starting to see the depth of possibility that the category maintains. Not only does vodka possess a range of flavors, but its textural diversity and purity have become desirable traits in the imbibing world.

With the advent of Instagram, consumers are not only able to read and select from cocktail menus before even arriving at a bar, they are now also able to follow the stories of the products available to them. In knowing the history behind the production of what they are ordering, they feel more involved in and connected to the product’s journey, and more emboldened in ordering their favorite brands wherever they go.

In a single aisle, bottles boast flavors and textures gained from different base materials, distillation methods, and filtration techniques. Latvia’s elit vodka, for example, boasts “single-source grain,” “artesian well water,” and filtration through “super-fine quartz sand” and “Russian birch charcoal” in order to attain its premium purity. Another vodka, Leaf, emphasizes its water sources (an Alaskan glacier for “pure, smooth taste” and the Rocky Mountains for “unusual richness and complexity) as the keys to its individuality. A vodka’s base materials (water, grain, corn, potato, etc) coupled with thoughtful distillation techniques can create an array of options.

If a beverage director or bartender is going to feature vodka on their menu, they want different flavour profiles to highlight and inspire the cocktail’s composition, accentuating the vodka character as a base as opposed to just using its neutrally-cloaked ABV to bolster the rest of the ingredient list.

Miranda Breedlove is the National Director of Bars for Hyatt, and her spirits selections influence a wide span of properties across the US and Canada. “If I am creating a cocktail, I will choose the brand that is priced best for that drink that has the characteristics or story I am looking for.” Bartending has become a more viable and respected career path, and beverage professionals are looking for deeper education, including consideration of the production methods that a spirit uses. “What is it made of? Where is it made? How is it made?” Breedlove consistently considers these factors when making her bottle selections. “Overall my preference is most dependent on the quality and style of the spirit depending on what I’m using it for. Secondly, I look to the brand relationship and education I have received.” Breedlove’s focus on quality and education means that producers must amplify their outreach, sharing their passion for their products through genuine elevation of industry professionals by creating educational opportunities about their product, offering opportunities to finance further study, and participating in industry-focused fundraisers. Breedlove especially pays attention to these components when it comes to premium products. “I am not generally one to pay for marketing gimmicks, but there are certain higher-priced vodkas that I will spring for during certain occasions as I have either had good experiences with them, they taste on par with their pricing, or they’re preferred by guests I am entertaining.”

2020 holds countless possibilities for the products that uphold consumer and trade expectations. Freed from its debut as a bland background for 1950s’ casseroles and TV dinners and with the right attention to quality and education, vodka is poised to stand proudly in this new decade’s spirits spotlight.

Sparkling Wine by the Numbers: New-World Bubbles Offer Plenty of Competition for Champagne

For over two decades, sparkling wine consumption in the US has been on a steady rise. Data from Statista shows that in 1999 sparkling wine sales in the US represented about 15.6% of wine shipments, and eventually almost doubled to 27.4% in 2018. Simultaneous data from the Wine Institute shows a rise from 105.2 million bottles sold in 1998 to 193.2 million in 2018. Wine consumption in general has been increasing, but it’s sparkling wine sales in particular taking that largest jump—more than 50% between 2008 and 2018. This exponential acceleration in sparkling wine leads to the imminent question: does the favor fall further on the import or domestic side of the category?

Beverage Testing Institute’s extensive catalogue of data creates a unique insight into market data trends seen in proprietary product sampling and professional reviews. Between 1998 and 2018, 6.3% of sparkling wines evaluated by BTI were awarded a score of 93 points or higher. 60% of these sparkling wines were Champagne and 40% were domestic sparklers, and a higher percentage of Champagnes compared to domestic sparklers ranked above 93 points (17% vs. 3%).

Though an initial glance at this data could lead to a conclusion that Champagne is the consumer preference, further exploration reveals otherwise. While BTI’s data set has a larger percentage of high-scoring (93 points and above) Champagnes as opposed to domestic sparkling wines, the average score of the domestic sparklers is significantly higher than that of the Champagne; 93-point-and-higher domestic sparkling wines averaged a score of 96.3 points while Champagnes at the same level averaged 94.3 points.

With uncertain import tariffs looming on the horizon, domestic sparkling wine producers should take note: the data shows that American-made sparkling wines offer consumers a greater value than imported Champagne.